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Playdate: Playdate

Dan Bilawsky By

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While children spend after school-hours and weekends working on homework and spending time with their families, they also have play dates. They get together with other like-minded friends to let loose and blow off some steam. Musicians often do the same thing and, appropriately enough, three of the five performers on Playdate have been friends since high school. Guitarist Amanda Monaco, saxophonist Wayne Escoffery and pianist Noah Baerman have a shared history, having studied music together in Connecticut, and they've joined forces with bassist Henry Lugo and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza to form Playdate.

The group/album title makes perfect sense because of the relationship of the participants but it can be misleading if viewed from a musical stance. This isn't a loose blowing session with overdone standards. The press materials mark the album as a "delightful combination of the hard bop tradition and modern sophistication" and, while this is largely accurate, the scales tip a little toward the latter. Five of the seven tracks on this record were written by the participants and each song has something different to say. Monaco's tone is warm and inviting and Escoffery—lacking rough edges here—matches her with his own sound.

The album begins in with the mid-tempo swing of Monaco's "Copper Tone." Escoffery spins out instantly appealing and simply executed melodic lines that dovetail with Monaco and, to a lesser extent, Baerman. At times, Monaco blends so well with Escoffery, that it almost seems like another horn is present. James Williams' "Yes, Yes Oh Yes!," receives a red carpet reading, beginning with Monaco's solo introduction and moving to a cool swing vibe, highlighted by Escoffery's nonchalant and incredibly hip delivery. A long run of solos, featuring some deep bellowing notes from Escoffery, is capped off by a sax cadenza and some arco bass toward the end of the song.

Sperrazza proves to be a double-threat here with his fine drumming and intriguing compositions. His "Milan Kundera," taking its name from the famed author, sounds like a cheery Vince Guaraldi-style Charlie Brown song—in seven—with slight calypso inflections adding to its originality. While Escoffery's main axe is his tenor saxophone, his work on soprano here is fresh and proves to be one of the highlights of the album. The connection established between these musicians, both in terms of personal history and in musical empathy, is solid; hopefully this won't be a one-time play date.

Track Listing: Copper Tone; Remember The Goldfish; Yes, Yes, Oh Yes!; T-Time; Baby Man; Milan Kundera; Memday.

Personnel: Wayne Escoffery: saxophones; Noah Baerman: piano; Amanda Monaco: guitar; Vinnie Sperrazza: drums; Henry Lugo: acoustic bass.

Title: Playdate | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Posi-Tone Records

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